India is a country with a history of organic production. Since ancient times agriculture thrived under low-input systems where the “Kamadhenu” or cow-manure provided a ready supply of natural fertilisers. Visiting India in 1910, Sir Albert Howard, pioneer of organic farming systems as we know them, concluded that India was a country of such geographical and climactic extremes that a one-size fits all model for ‘productive’ agriculture didn’t make sense. It was the local and individual specialist knowledge of soil, varieties and weather patterns that would be key to Indian agricultural success.
Heeding little notice of Albert’s recommendations the newly founded ‘Imperial Department of Agriculture’ was determined to find a solution to Indian agricultural productivity, ensuring the country more food security, and developing agriculture as a productive export market for feeding UK citizens. Ultimately leading to the roll-out of ‘Green Revolution’ technology in the 1960s, and moving India away from their cultural history of organic or biodynamic cultivation.
The consequences of this ‘revolution’ have been many and far-reaching (270,000 Indian farmers across the Punjab and other areas have killed themselves since the 1990s) But as the side-effects become increasingly apparent, a grass-roots movement returning to organic and biodynamic farming ahas begun to take hold. Over the past decade, small-scale, often marginal, family farmers have been reviving organic farming in India, and transitioning their land back to organic systems. According to APEDA, India’s agriculture and food agency, there are now more than a million hectares of land under organic certification.
Adarsh Bio Organics farm outside Delhi is one such farm. Farmer, Adarsh Singh Tawar, was raised in a farming family and had an abiding interest in nature and, consequently, sustainable development. Studying agriculture at university, he took specialist classes in bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides and also organic land management. But after university, Adarsh didn’t immediately begin farming. Instead, he worked in organic marketing and distribution, gaining important insight into the entire value chain, from farm input to consumer’s plate and the problems faced at each stage of production.
It was working as a retailer, selling organic fruit and vegetables, which brought Adarsh back to farming. He was having trouble sourcing good organic produce and encountering a range of problems with pricing and bottlenecks in the supply chain. So he decided the solution was to grow the produce himself.
The land Adarsh farms is owned by a distant relative, secured under a ten year lease. As in many parts of the world, it is increasingly expensive to purchase good farmland in India, but particularly where Adarsh farms just outside Delhi. He will eventually have to turn the farm back over to his relative, but in the meantime he is trying to convince other local farmers to transition to organic. The farm has a training programme of residential courses on organic growing, rural permaculture, biodynamics and other subjects; and they offer apprenticeships and volunteer positions for hands-on, ground-on experience. One of the farm’s aims is to spread awareness of organic practices to other farmers, students and consumers. Adarsh sees the farm as a model research farm where all (scientists, agricultural students, consumers, professionals, farmers, and volunteers) can come, practice, learn and network with each other to create a sustainable food production system.
The market for organic food is increasing in India and there is a growing network of organic farmer’s markets across the country. Adarsh notes that when he first began farming, he had to work for customers. Organic certification is not mandatory in India, so trust in the quality of the produce had to be built through relationships over time. When the farm first started, Adarsh invited families to visit the farm for a picnic and farm tour, to allow them to see first-hand how plants were grown on the farm and to establish their trust.
Adarsh Bio Organics now operates as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), the first organically certified CSA in India. The model, originally developed in the US, asks customers to purchase a share of the farm’s crops at the beginning of the season. Customers then receive their portion of the harvest, delivered weekly throughout the year. It is an innovative model that allows for some economic stability, where the farmer knows how much to grow and to whom the produce will be sold, and consumers have a supply of high-quality organic produce at prices often comparable to conventional.
The transition to a CSA model was important step for Ardash, providing a secure market for the farm’s produce. There is some government support in India for the organic sector, through subsidies for certification and schemes to support farmers converting to organic. But Adarsh feels that more help is needed for marketing and distribution networks. Organic farming demands a significant number of man hours and the marketing of produce to consumers doesn’t often get the attention it needs.
The direct relationship that the farm has with its customers has allowed them to offer a better price on their food. In India, as in the UK, organic produce is often significantly more expensive than conventional. Adarsh attributes this, largely, to long supply chains between organic farmers and organic consumers facilitated by a variety of middlemen who push prices up. His aim is, ‘…to serve the community and make organic produce affordable for the common masses.’ By creating a CSA, the farm has found a way around the middleman, creating their own localised market and providing a fairer share of its produce for both the farm and their customers. In a country with 1.2billion mouths to feed, these localised and resilient systems can only be a good thing.
Photograph by Tiffany Wan
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